Last week I thought I had really put my foot in it with a friend. She has an extremely bright and creative 3rd grader and I realized that the deadline (Monday, November 9) for the Centers for the Highly Gifted was fast approaching . So I gave her a call and in the course of the conversation sort of wove in, “So…are you going to apply?” When she said “No, I don’t know what I would put on the form” I just about had a heart attack. Reflecting on my reaction, I worried I had seriously overstepped.
But then late yesterday afternoon she sent me an email. Could I come over that evening to talk about the application? She and her husband were stumbling on the first question: “What advanced learning need has your child demonstrated that you believe MAY NOT BE EASILY MET IN HIS OR HER LOCAL SCHOOL PROGRAMS.” Sure, I wrote her. She emailed back; another friend was also going to come over. By the time I arrived, there was yet another friend there for soup and chat. (My friend is like that.) Little did I know that I was going to be the evening’s “featured speaker.”
However it turned out really well. We had a good, thoughtful discussion about giftededness, MCPS, the Centers, their home school, education. For my part, it was very informative to hear their concerns about both home school and Center program, and to get their impressions of the MCPS presentations they had sat through. And they told me they appreciated my perspective and the chance to actually talk this stuff through, because the focus had been so much on the process of applying.
So what were my main points?
- My starting point for all of this is that the Center might not be great for every GT kid, but at minimum a parent shouldn’t cut off the opportunity by not even applying. If your child gets in, you can always say no. If they attend but don’t like it, they can always go back to their neighborhood school.
- There was some concern that kids in a GT program would get an “attitude,” that they would feel superior to other kids. My response? Kids in a regular classroom who are always at the top, who always finish their work before others, are getting no favors. Contrary to what one might think, condescension (not to mention behavior problems) can actually breed in that situation. Whereas when you put gifted kids with other kids at their readiness level, they may realize for the first time that they aren’t the best, that there are others smarter than them. Learning to work and even struggle a bit is a good thing, as opposed to coasting through, never learning work habits and then having the consequences hit them later in life when the lesson is harder and it really matters.
- Bottom line: Every child has a right to learn something during the six hours they are required to be in school. They shouldn’t be used as tutors or “good influences” for other kids to their own detriment.
- Diversity. Yes, this has been a concern with GT programs in the county–that the Centers and Magnets are overwhelming White and Asian. Encouragingly, my friend and her friends reported that the parents who showed up at the Center information meetings were extremely diverse. Which brought me to my next point….
- I think I planted some seeds of an “aha” moment when I explained that principals have an incentive NOT to have GT kids leave the building, especially minority kids. Think about it. Under No Child Left Behind schools live and die by their test scores. Why would a school encourage a high achieving child–especially a minority child–to leave? I mentioned it because….
- I had heard through the grapevine that parents at this particular school had gotten the hard sell from their principal, that “whatever the Center can do, we can do better.” Sorry. Just. Don’t. Buy. It. In my humble opinion, the “GT” that could be offered would be the thin gruel of a smidge of William and Mary and math acceleration. End of story. Whereas at the Centers, students receive substantive writing and writing instruction; use of WordlyWise vocabulary books; creative, content-rich interdisciplinary science and social studies; truly differentiated and appropriately challenging reading instruction. And of course grouping with peers, and the stimulation and understanding that comes with that, and teachers who understand more about giftedness than the average teacher. Slam dunk.